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By nature, I worry about our dwindling "natural resources" -- our vanishing old growth forests, our acidifying seas, our increasingly drought-stricken arable lands.

This morning it dawned on me, with the incredible pain still gripping my mind and soul, the more the human fallout our recent national tragedy comes to light,

-- that too often we are dealing with a dwindling "national resource" of human empathy too.  

[See Tea Party: and the Food Stamps debate, for evidence of this claim.]

We may or may not, be hardwired to be empathic creatures -- but without it, human society can become one very ugly place. A place without help; a place without hope; a place built upon the bricks of anger and fear.

'Spectrum of empathy' found in the brain

by Rowan Hooper, -- Sep 18, 2006

Ever wondered how some people can "put themselves into another person's shoes" and some people cannot? Our ability to empathise with others seems to depend on the action of "mirror neurons" in the brain, according to a new study.

Mirror neurons, known to exist in humans and in macaque monkeys, activate when an action is observed, and also when it is performed. Now new research reveals that there are mirror neurons in humans that fire when sounds are heard. In other words, if you hear the noise of someone eating an apple, some of the same neurons fire as when you eat the apple yourself.

"The mirror system is a particular form of Pavlovian association," says Keysers, referring to the classic behavioural experiments where dogs were trained to associate food with the noise of a bell. "Each time you crunch a potato chip you hear yourself crunching the chip, and now when you hear someone else crunching it activates your own action neurons."

Every time you hear another child cry in hunger, if you are an empathic person, you will feel a twang of hunger too.

An empathic person, given the choice, will soon say "we should do something about that."  

Sadly, many politician-type persons have learned to short-circuit that very human impulse ... of "putting yourself in into another person's shoes."  

THAT often costs money. And Politicians are all about -- NOT spending money, to solve ACTUAL Human problems.

Know the Limits of Political Empathy

by Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm, persuasivelitigator -- Nov 05, 2012

I might be exaggerating a little, but not much. America's political attitudes, as many commentators have noted and polling confirms, are more polarized than ever before in modern times. That polarization that some call a new "tribalism" in our political world, is not just a result of a defined set of policy preferences. Instead, it is a clash of increasingly incompatible worldviews, with each side literally not able to understand the other. The empathy that allows one to say, "I see where you're coming from," before adding, "but I disagree" is in sharp decline. [...]

Empathy Across the Aisles: The Research

One very basic way to measure empathy is to start with the human tendency to apply our own visceral states to others: If we are thirsty, we are more sensitive to another's thirst. Same for heat, cold, and other forms of comfort. But based on O'Brien and Ellsworth's work, there are some important differences in who benefits from these projections. The pair showed that participants avoid applying their own visceral states to the evaluation of others who are described as hailing from the opposite end of the political spectrum. In two studies focusing on cold and thirst, the University of Michigan researchers found that research participants followed the well-documented pattern of applying their own cold or thirst to the evaluation of others, but not when those others were represented as having opposing political views. That indicates that we’re less likely to extend basic empathy to those who are different, not just in demographic or observable terms, but different in beliefs as well. “All else being equal,” the authors conclude, “knowledge of another person’s politics should not influence how cold or thirsty one thinks he or she is, but it does.”

National Tragedies like the unimaginable one unfolding in Newtown Connecticut, can short circuit the short-circuits, but only for a short time.  

Only until the shock wears offs and those "tribal" anti-empathetic barriers are restored again ... until the political interests get up, shake it off, and go back to their respective boxing corners.

Only until the bell rings, and the game of politics resumes again ... as if nothing really happened.  Again.

It is time to heal America. And so we must say to every American: Look beyond the stereotypes that blind us. We need each other. All of us -- we need each other. We don't have a person to waste. And yet for too long politicians have told the most of us that are doing all right that what's really wrong with America is the rest of us. Them. Them, the minorities. Them, the liberals. Them, the poor. Them, the homeless. Them, the people with disabilities. Them, the gays. We've gotten to where we've nearly "them"ed ourselves to death. Them and them and them. But this is America. There is no them; there's only us. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice, for all.
--  "A Place Called Hope" (July 16, 1992)

I feel your pain.
-- Bill Clinton response to AIDS activist Bob Rafsky at the Laura Belle nightclub in Manhattan (March 27, 1992)

Some "political tribes" tend make use of and appeal to this human facility of empathy, more more naturally and practically than other tribes and coalitions.

Empathy is a tool;  Empathy is a thermometer;  Empathy is a gauge of progress.  One that often falls way too short, of our very appropriate human goals and ideals ...

How to Test Your Empathy
Empathy comes more naturally to some than to others.

by Guy Winch, Ph.D. in The Squeaky Wheel, -- Mar 15, 2011

When We Should Use Empathy

Once we have gained practice in using the empathy exercise we could apply it in a variety of situations. Here are just a few of many possible scenarios:

1. Whenever we seek to understand someone better.

2. When we find ourselves arguing unproductively with a spouse or a significant other.

3. When we have trouble connecting emotionally to the plight of a loved one.

4. When we want to calm our tempers and manage our emotions.

5. When figuring out how best to complain effectively.

Empathy comes more naturally to some than it does to others. However, by taking time to truly paint a picture of what it is like for the other person and imagine ourselves in their place, we will gain valuable insights and forge deeper connections to those around us.

I would propose that there is indeed an Empathy Spectrum, that we all fall somewhere on, due to our own unique combination of nature and nurture.  It's not a fixed characteristic.  It's something that can change and grow, over time.  Or wither away.

It is the very essence of our human condition.  It is also a "human resource" that often runs far too low ... over time.  We each alone, only have so much to give.

Want Empathetic Children? Take Joy in Empathy
Empathy develops from the experience of empathy -- not from suffering.

by Maia Szalavitz in Born for Love, -- Feb 16, 2010

The most important of these is nurturing, responsive parenting.  Babies whose needs for touch, comfort and soothing are not met regularly by one or two primary caregivers will have difficulty developing empathy -- just as babies who aren’t exposed to speech will not be able to learn to speak.

Empathy, then, develops from the experience of empathy -- not from suffering.  We tend to think of empathy as something that comes from “knowing what it’s like” to feel pain -- but the origins of empathy are in shared nurture.  People are most empathetic when they feel calm and safe:  if your own needs aren’t being met, it’s hard to think of someone else’s. [...]

If you want empathetic kids, the best thing to do is to be an empathetic person and show kids why kindness matters.

Empathy is also a choice. It is a mindset. It is the force of human will, that builds bridges, instead of bombs.

Empathy is a choice. One we get the opportunity to make again and again, with the dawning each new day.  To feel someone else's pain -- or not. To share in the struggle, or to withdrawn from society and erect an invisible wall, to protect "your own."

Empathy is a choice, at least until that deep well of human emotion runs dry, from far too many days without replenishing rains.  Of common human decency.  Of life restoring human compassion.  Of simple, small acts of kindness.

It's this "drought of empathetic emotion" that some political interest groups excel at generating, fostering, and normalizing ... as if all other points of view are devoid of merit ... all other humans, especially those of the empathetic kind, are simply obstacles in their political way.

Obstacles to be bullied into fear and submission. By whatever means feasible.  

"Don't trample on them," is the only empathic emotion they can currently see.

They are stuck on the "fear-end" of the empathy spectrum.  But their circuit breakers may be currently off.  They have kids too, you know.  Kids, whom presumably, they also wish to protect, from random acts of violence.

Such is the beginning of the struggle, otherwise known as finding "common ground," before the entire island of Humanity, slips into the sea.

Originally posted to Digging up those Facts ... for over 8 years. on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 03:03 PM PST.

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